Sunday, January 08, 2017

Lloyd Rodgers (1942-2016)



The composer Lloyd Rodgers has left us.  Born in Long Beach, California (June 2, 1942 - December 28, 2016, in San Diego), living away from Southern California only for two years in his first college teaching gig in Michigan.  He studied, bachelor's-master's-doctorate, at UCLA, where, as a grad student, he was a close informant of Roy Harris (Harris would have Rodgers listen to the latest LPs that came his way and report back on them so that Harris wouldn't have to listen himself), a co-conspirator with Douglas Leedy, then low-man and house radical on the composition faculty totem pole, but considered his primary composition instructor to have been Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He recently retired after 42 years tenure at California State University, Fullerton, where he became something of a local legend, a corrective or counter-force to institutional music making, through his teaching and through his work with a series of alternative music-making ensembles, notable the CSUF New Music Ensemble, the Cartesian Reunion Memorial Orchestra (the most prominent Southern California new music ensemble of its day not to be included in Los Angeles's edition of New Music America), a CSUF-based Diverse Instruments Ensemble (or D.I.E.) that was a kind of combination Collegium Musicum and Scratch Orchestra for experiments with historical and new music in open or reimagined instrumentations (typical program: arrangements of Satie, Zarlino and Bach), but also an excellent way for adventurous musicians to get University ensemble credit without having to deal with the usual choir, band, or orchestra, and his own professional ensemble, the Lloyd Rodgers Group.


Lloyd's compositional work began firmly in the avant-garde of the late 1960s, but with a commission from the Mirecourt Trio for a piano trio of classical dimensions, he made a decided turn to a modal or tonal world, in which cycles and repetitions were once again allowed, but without any sentimental attitude toward The Tradition. Many of the pieces were modular in construction and with an instrumentation to be determined in rehearsal (see the score of 1985's The Swing, above.)  In co-founding the Cartesian Reunion Memorial Orchestra, he began to work with a democratic or collective environment pooling the members' compositional and instrumental resources. In principle, an "open" instrumentation group, its most stable grouping included Rodgers on sax, clarinet and keyboards, two or three additional keyboardists, vibraphone, guitar, cello, and electric bass, a mixture suggesting its unsettled relationship to both classical and pop groupings (though possibly more settled towards an early music mixed consort) but also directly connecting to the already-established East Coast ensembles of Reich and Glass and the experimental ensembles in England which Lloyd would later discover with great enthusiasm.  (I first heard of the CRMO via an underground cassette with them playing a very odd arrangement of Liszt's Lugubrious Gondola v e r y  s l o w l y.)  In addition to his concert works, Lloyd had a long professional relationship with the choreographer Rudy Perez, and major works for dance included an Orpheus (1988) and The Little Prince (1987).

I didn't know Lloyd well enough and can only now regret this. He was one of those passionate musicians and teachers who used expletives with the frequency most of us use articles and conjunctions, would leave impossibly rude messages on his answering machine, was known to be both blunt in offering judgements but generous in extra hours of teaching well outside of any official classroom, and often in rooms where his favored "brown food" of coffee and cigarettes was either allowed or ignored.  That passion could be easily confused with cynicism, sometimes even meanness, but it was a real and honest passion with only one direction: towards making honest and passionate music and making the world better by putting the music in it.  He introduced me to the writings of the then-nearly forgotten Situationists via some underground publications in the early 80s, just one of the currents in his critical but independent engagement with music and the world around it.  He was also one of those musical radicals who turned profoundly to the roots of music-making: the first lesson in his Counterpoint or Harmony course might be scheduled to meet not in some classroom but in a hardware store, so that students could buy all the materials needed to build a monochord (or, a one of Lloyd's students put it "the God machine.")


Lloyd's website is here, with lots of music to listen to, but not yet long-promised scores.  A memorial page is on Facebook, here.  My publishing enterprise, Material Press, is fortunate to publish two of Lloyd's pieces, including the georgeous Trio (1975.)

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